Stats & Info: Bobby Cox

Bud Black of the San Diego Padres was named National League Manager of the Year Wednesday, beating the Cincinnati Reds’ Dusty Baker by one point. The Padres went 90-72 this season, missing out on the playoffs by one game, and just two games behind the World Series winning San Francisco Giants.

Although the Padres sputtered to the finish, it’s the most games the Padres have won since 1998, the last time they went to the World Series. Black’s teams have had at least a 12-win increase in each of the last two seasons.

The Reds finished one game better than the Padres at 91-71 this season and Baker just missed out on his fourth Manager of the Year award, which would have tied him with Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa for the all-time record.

Cincinnati led the league in hitting, runs and OPS and were second, and they’ve also increased their win total every year that Baker has been there. But their 13-win increase this season was second in all of baseball to the Padres, who won 15 more games than they did last year.
It was all about the starting pitching for the San Francisco Giants, who advanced to the NLCS with a win at Turner Field over the Braves.

Madison Bumgarner (age 21) became the youngest Giants pitcher to win a postseason game and the second-youngest starting pitcher to win a series clincher, behind only Fernando Valenzuela.

The Giants starting pitchers -- Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Bumgarner -- combined for an 0.93 ERA, the third-lowest by an NL team in a postseason series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Elias also noted that this was the first postseason series ever in which all of the games were decided by one run.

Bumgarner was a difference-maker. He was fantastic in his last nine regular-season starts and was again great in Game 4. On Monday, he had his highest average fastball velocity (93.4 MPH according to our Inside Edge video data), and got hitters to chase his fastball more frequently in any start in his brief career.

The determining factors were four players, none of whom started the season with the team -- Bumgarner, Santiago Casilla, Buster Posey and Cody Ross.

The Giants have now twice won postseason series-clinching games at Turner Field, amazing considering they've only won one regular-season series there since the ballpark opened in 1997. They advance to their fifth NLCS, having won two previously (1989 and 2002) and lost two (1971 and 1987).

It was Bobby Cox's final game as a major league manager. Cox set an all-time record with his 16th career postseason appearance. He retires with one World Series title, with the 1995 Braves. There were some disappointing defeats along the way (the Braves have now lost eight straight postseason elimination games at home), but 2,504 regular season wins (fourth all-time) and a lot of good memories.

The Giants meanwhile head to an NLCS matchup with the Philadelphia Phillies. The teams split six games during the regular season. The key will be whether their pitching can shut the Phillies down -- during the regular season, they held Phillies hitters to a .226 batting average and three home runs -- and whether their hitting can get anything done against a staff that got two shutouts in its NLDS sweep of the Cincinnati Reds.

Torre, Cox lead year of legendary exits

September, 17, 2010
With Bobby Cox and Joe Torre both retiring at the end of the season -- and with Lou Piniella having retired last month -- it begs the question: Is this the best year for coaching/managing legends exiting in one particular sport?
Torre Cox
There have been other years in which legendary managers/head coaches all left the game together; however, Cox, Torre and Piniella are all in the top 15 on the all-time wins list. They have combined for six World Series titles, and Cooperstown most likely awaits for both Cox and Torre.

Here are some other years in which legends exited together in the four major sports (although not all these exits were retirements).

Let the debate begin.

Bobby Cox: Currently fourth on all-time wins list, 14 straight division titles, one World Series title
Lou Piniella: Currently 14th on all-time wins list, one World Series title
Joe Torre: Four World Series titles, currently fifth on all-time wins list

Billy Martin: .553 win pct., one World Series title
Chuck Tanner: One World Series title
Dick Williams: Two World Series titles, currently 18th on wins list

Joe McCarthy: Seven World Series titles, currently eighth on all-time wins list
Connie Mack: 53 years as manager, all-time wins leader, five World Series titles

Hubie Brown: 13 NBA seasons, won one ABA title
Rudy Tomjanovich: Two-time NBA champion
Lenny Wilkens: Currently second-most wins in NBA history, one NBA title

Cotton Fitzsimmons: 832 wins, currently 13th on all-time list
Dick Motta: Currently 10th on all-time wins list, one NBA title

Jack Ramsay: Currently 12th on all-time wins list, one NBA title
Gene Shue: 22 seasons, currently 14th on all-time wins list

Bill Cowher: One Super Bowl win
Dennis Green: 13 seasons, 113 wins
Bill Parcells: Two-time Super Bowl Champion
Marty Schottenheimer: 200 career wins

Tom Landry: 29 seasons, 250 wins, two Super Bowl titles
Bill Walsh: .609 win pct., three Super Bowl wins

Pat Burns : 501 career wins, one Stanley Cup title
Glen Sather: Four Stanley Cup titles
Brian Sutter: 451 career wins

Scotty Bowman: Nine Stanley Cup titles, all-time wins leader
Roger Neilson: 16 seasons, 460 wins

Bold = Member of Hall of Fame

Lou Piniella by the numbers

August, 22, 2010
The Chicago Cubs' Lou Piniella managed the 3,548th and final game of his career Sunday, a 16-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Piniella finishes with 1,835 wins as a manager, 14th on the all-time list. The only eligible manager with more wins who is not in the Hall of Fame is Gene Mauch (12th with 1,902 wins).
As a manager, Piniella is one of:
• Two men (Dick Williams being the other) to win at least 90 games in a season with four different teams. Piniella did it with the Yankees, Reds, Mariners and Cubs.

• Three Cubs managers to make consecutive playoff appearances (2007-08).

• Four to win Manager of the Year honors in both the American and National leagues (La Russa, Cox and Leyland are the others).

• Five to be named Manager of the Year at least three times, along with Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox (4 each), and Dusty Baker and Jim Leyland (3 each).

• In Piniella’s final game in the dugout, the Braves' Mike Minor became the second pitcher this season with at least 12 strikeouts within the first three games of his career (the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg being the other). Minor's 12 K’s ties the franchise record for the most in a start by a rookie.

• FROM THE ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU: Atlanta's lead-off hitter Omar Infante and No. 2 hitter Jason Heyward each hit two home runs against the Cubs. It's the first time in since 1900 that the top two hitters in the Braves' lineup each had a multi-HR game in the same game.
• With his win at home over the Nationals, the Philadelphia Phillies Roy Oswalt remains perfect in seven starts at Citizens Bank Park (7-0, 2.03 ERA). Oswalt is now 31-7 in 48 career starts in the month of August. That’s a win percentage of .816, the best among active pitchers who have made at least 45 starts.

• The St. Louis Cardinals' Jaime Garcia shut out the San Francisco Giants, 9-0. He's the first left-handed Cardinals rookie to throw a shutout since Bud Smith's no-hitter against the Padres in September of 2001.

• The San Diego Padres' Adrian Gonzalez has now hit at least 25 home runs in each of the last four seasons. The only other player with such a streak in team history is the late Ken Caminiti. Gonzalez is on the verge of also becoming the Padres’ all-time leader in home runs. He now has 155, one shy of Phil Nevin for second in franchise history and is eight shy of Nate Colbert’s team record of 163.

• In the Chicago White Sox's 3-2 loss in 10 innings to the Royals, Bobby Jenks pitched the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. It’s the third time in Jenks’ career that he pitched three innings of relief and the first since Sept. 9, 2005.

• Dallas Braden allowed three earned runs in six innings in the Oakland Athletics' 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the 15th straight quality start by an A’s pitcher, extending the longest streak in Oakland history.
The Braves announced that Chipper Jones tore his anterior cruciate ligament Tuesday night and will need surgery, ending his 2010 season.

Will it also end his career? The 38-year-old third baseman had mentioned retirement earlier this season.

Let's take a look at some things Chipper:

Among active players, Jones ranks 9th in hits (2,490), 7th in runs (1,505), 6th in home runs (436), 6th in extra-base hits (966) and 7th in OBP (.405, minimum 3,000 plate appearances).

With this being Bobby Cox's last season, it looks as if Tuesday was the last game for the Chipper-Cox combo. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that the player/manager duo has logged 2,261 games together, the second-most of any such tandem in MLB history. Only Honus Wagner under Fred Clarke for Louisville (1897-1899) and Pittsburgh (1900-1915) had more.

Chipper Jones ranks in the top 30 all-time with a .941 OPS, matching that of the legendary Willie Mays.

A team of nine players with career numbers of Chipper Jones would win nearly 72 percent of the time, by way of Bill James Offensive Winning Percentage metric. By comparison, a team comprised of nine Alex Rodriguez's would win 70 percent of the time.

Is Heyward too patient at the plate?

June, 1, 2010
Prior to the start of the season the buzz around Jason Heyward was as much about his plate discipline as his power potential. Every few years we come across a rookie who makes an immediate impact with his power, but it typically takes a few years to develop discipline in the batter’s box.

Yet Heyward looked mature beyond his years in spring training, walking 11 times in 22 games and posting a .423 on-base percentage. The stage was set for what is shaping up to be one of the most impressive rookie seasons we’ve seen in quite some time.

Heyward has followed up his spring performance by showing off his discipline in the majors. He enters Tuesday with a .410 on-base percentage and has walked 29 times in 195 plate appearances.

But could Heyward’s discipline actually be hurting him? Let’s investigate.

On April 28, when Heyward was 1-20 in his previous seven games, the Atlanta Journal Constitution quoted Bobby Cox as saying “He’s taking way too many pitches for strikes. [As a result] he’s getting one pitch to swing at right now.”

What Cox was essentially getting at was that Heyward is backing himself into a corner. While his plate discipline is drawing walks, it’s also forcing him to swing at two-strike pitches that he may otherwise wish to let pass.

Just take a look at his numbers in two-strike counts as evidence.

At the time of Cox’s comments, Heyward had gotten into a two-strike count in 51 of his 81 plate appearances (63.0 percent). In those two-strike counts, Heyward was batting just .111 with a .216 on-base percentage. Those percentages were well below the league average of .181 and .254, and not even close to his impressive numbers in non-two-strike counts.

But since Cox made those comments, Heyward has noticeably changed his approach at the plate. He has worked his way into a two-strike count just 51.7 percent of time.

While his numbers in non-two-strike counts have fallen considerably, his overall stats are up and, perhaps most importantly, more consistent. Since April 28 he’s batting .340 with a .447 on-base percentage.

Numbers aside, perhaps the most impressive take away from this is Heyward’s ability to take advice from his manager and implement it immediately. If he’s making adjustments like this at the age of 20, what will he be capable of in 5-10 years?

To check out Heyward’s new approach for yourself, tune in to ESPN at 7 ET tonight as the Braves host the Phillies.

Monday's first pitch

April, 5, 2010
Today’s Trivia: As Bobby Cox readies himself for his final Opening Day, let’s look back on his first. In Cox’s first game as manager (April 7, 1978), a pair of future Hall of Famers dueled on the mound, as the Braves started Phil Niekro against the Dodgers’ Don Sutton. But perhaps more interesting than that? Which two current managers played in that game? (Hint: both are now over 60!)

* Over the last 50 years, there have been four instances of a pitcher getting the start on Opening Day after missing all of the previous season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. On Monday, three pitchers will do just that. Jake Westbrook, Ben Sheets and Shaun Marcum are all starting the opener for their respective teams after missing all of the last year. The last pitcher to do that was Carl Pavano for the Yankees in 2007. Prior to that: Scott Erickson (’02 Orioles), Alex Fernandez (’99 Marlins), Diego Segui (’77 Mariners). And because you don’t get to type this name enough – the last pitcher to do it prior to 1960 was Vinegar Bend Mizell for the 1956 Cardinals after serving in Korea.

* With the NCAA title game tonight, you're probably wondering what baseball history has to say about tonight's outcome. When was the last time a Butler faced a Duke in the MLB? On July 26, 1970, Indians catcher Duke Sims went 0-2 against Bill Butler of the Royals. Score one for Butler there. However, if home run hitting is any indicator, this one could be all Duke. There have been 19 players with the last name Butler in MLB history. Led by Billy and Brett, those Butlers hit a combined 118 home runs. Duke Snider alone had 407 homers. What about the actual schools, you ask? Well, Butler has only produced four MLB players to Duke's 31. But the last time we saw a Duke-Butler meeting at the plate? On April 6, 1998, Butler's Doug Jones (then on the Brewers) got Duke's Ryan Jackson (Marlins) to fly out to center.

* President Obama will throw out the first pitch this afternoon in Washington, continuing a now 100-year tradition started by William Howard Taft. This will be the 63rd time that a sitting President has thrown out the first pitch on Opening Day, with only Jimmy Carter never doing so since Taft. An interesting trend has emerged though. Including Obama, three of our last four Presidents have been real lefties – that is, with their throwing arm. Only the A’s, Blue Jays, Mets and Phillies feature three lefties in their Opening Day rotation. Interestingly, our last five presidents only had 24 fewer wins last season than Toronto’s current rotation.

* Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt will be starting their 8th straight openers, the longest active streak followed by Carlos Zambrano at six. Chipper Jones will be making his 14th straight Opening Day start for the Braves, the longest active streak with one team. Next on that list are Todd Helton (13) and Paul Konerko (12). No Derek Jeter? He missed the first four games on 2001. Otherwise, he’d be one spot ahead of Jones.

* Today’s Leaderboard: If you are going to get Xavier Nady in the lineup, you might as well make it on Opening Day. The Cubs outfielder is a career .481 hitter in the first game of the season, highest among active players with 15 at-bats. Nady also has five home runs on Opening Day. Only Ken Griffey Jr. (8) and Adam Dunn (6) have more among active players.

Matchup(s) of the Day:
Mark DeRosa is 13-27 lifetime against Roy Oswalt. That .481 batting average is the highest for any hitter that has faced Oswalt at least 20 times.

Matt Holliday is just 1-16 in his career against Aaron Harang. That .063 average is his lowest against any pitcher he’s faced 15 times.

Trivia Answer: Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston (who is now 66) appeared as a pinch hitter for the Braves and made the final out the game. Dusty Baker (who is now 60) started in LF for the Dodgers.

One2Watch4: Braves 2B Martin Prado

March, 28, 2010
Looking for an under-the-radar fantasy possibility at second base? Then why not take a nice long look at Martin Prado? With the Kelly Johnson era at an end in Atlanta, Prado is poised to have a breakout season. Not only did Prado have a pretty decent season last year, but he should be the Braves 2B starter from day one batting in the second spot behind Nate McLouth and in front of Chipper Jones. Take a look at how some of Prado’s numbers compared with MLB and NL second basemen last year.Note the production that Prado had despite the low number of at bats. With Kelly Johnson gone and Prado cemented as the everyday second baseman fantasy owners should expect an uptick in production. In 2009 Prado was 20th among MLB second baseman with 503 Total Plate Appearances and 21st with 450 At Bats. For better or worse Bobby Cox has been known to stick with players once he’s decided that’s who he wants, so look for Prado to see a significant improvement in that category.

Reasons to be Skeptical

Unfortunately, there are some reasons to worry about Prado’s overall run production. First off, Nate McClouth hasn’t exactly been tearing the cover off the ball this spring so it appears that batting in the second hole for the Braves might often mean batting with the bases empty and one out.

Perhaps a larger worry, and the two are probably connected, should be Prado’s inability to create runs last year. In fact, Prado (5.42) lagged far behind leaders Ben Zobrist (8.12) and Chase Utley (7.98) in terms of producing runs per 27 innings in 2009. Of course it should also be noted that Zobrist and Utley were both almost two full runs ahead of their closest rival (Brian Roberts). Still, McClouth’s inconsistency coupled with Prado’s seeming difficulty in producing runs is some cause for alarm.

Other Variables

With Chipper Jones coming off one of his worst seasons of his career there are two schools of thought: he’s due to bounce back, or it’s the end of a great career. Last year Jones posted a career low in RBI and had his lowest OPS since his rookie season. Still, the fact remains that if Jones gets 600 at-bats he drives in over 100 runs and if Prado is batting in front of him than fantasy owners are going to be the beneficiary of those RBI. Furthermore, there seems to be a growing feeling in Atlanta that given the closeness between Chipper and Bobby Cox that Jones would be willing to play through some injuries that in the past may have sidelined him.


Prado isn’t a player that you should draft before some of the other stalwart second basemen out there like Utley, but he is a very solid option for those willing to wait a little bit longer on draft night. I look for him to continue the improvement that he had last season and for his numbers to increase in 2010.